The Advent season, with its preparations for Christmas, is always nostalgic for me. I was very close to my grandparents, John and Helen Zielinski, and Grandpa told me stories of how his mother, Genevieve (née Klaus) Zielinski, loved Christmas, too. He was the oldest of the five children in his family, and at some point before Christmas, she would draw him aside and show him the gifts that she had gathered to give to his younger siblings, sharing with him her anticipation of the joy that those gifts would bring. Of course, she didn’t show him the gifts that he himself would receive, but the honor of being co-conspirator in creating Christmas joy for his siblings was clearly a source of pride for Grandpa. Grandpa’s family also had a tradition of giving the children one gift before Christmas. Whether this custom had its origins in the Polish tradition of gift-giving at the feast of St. Nicholas (Święty Mikołaj) on December 6 is unclear, but Grandpa and Grandma strongly felt that children should not have to wait throughout the whole of Advent without some small gift. As a child, I certainly had no objections to this practice.
Grandpa passed away in the pre-dawn darkness of a February night in 2003. He had been suffering from prostate cancer for some time, and we knew the end was near. At the time, I was pregnant with my fourth child, Catherine, and when I spoke with him on the phone for the last time, a few days before he died, Grandpa told me that he was holding out to know that Catherine had arrived into this world safely. Catherine was born a few minutes after dawn, just hours after Grandpa died. He never got to meet her, but I know in my heart that he knew all about her. I’ve tried to share my memories of my grandparents with all my children, especially at Christmas when those memories are so dear and Grandma and Grandpa feel so close.
So what does this have to do with Geneteka? Fast-forward to October of 2012. I was still plugging away at my research on Grandpa’s Zieliński’s family, but I hadn’t obtained any information prior to the emigration of Grandpa’s father, Joseph Zielinski, and Joseph’s brother, Frank Zielinski. I had progressed to the point where I had identified the Zielinskis’ ancestral village of Mistrzewice, Mazowieckie province, and I had determined that some records for this parish were held at the Archiwum Państwowe w Warszawie Oddział w Grodzisku Mazowieckim (the Grodzisk Mazowiecki Branch of the Polish State Archive of Warsaw). In October 2012 I wrote a snail-mail letter to the archive to request a copy of my great-grandfather’s birth record, hoping that at last I might have some documentation from Poland for this family. Most of my research in Polish records at this point had been done in LDS microfilms, and I was as yet unaware of the growing treasure-trove of Polish vital records coming online in greater numbers each day.
It was while I was waiting for my reply from that archive, that Grandpa gave me my best Christmas gift that year, on December 16 — a little early, because no one should have to wait all the way until Christmas without some small gift. That was the day I discovered Geneteka, and found the birth records for his father, Joseph Zielinski, as well as for Joseph’s brother, Frank Zielinski, and eight other siblings who were previously unknown to our family (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Geneteka search results for children of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota.
For me, finally reading great-grandpa’s baptismal record, after so many years of seeking it, was such a thrill (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Baptismal record for Józef Zieliński, son of Stanisław Zieliński and Marianna Kalota.
As you may notice, the record is in Russian, which was the required language for all legal documents from this part of Poland at that time. Having this fantastic data set that I couldn’t read because all the records were in Russian, was also a gift in its own way. Although I’d dabbled in Russian translations with a few records before this, it was these records that forced me to finally get serious about learning to read Russian vital records. During the week between Christmas and New Year’s, while we were in Buffalo visiting with our extended family, I sat down and immersed myself in these records and in Shea and Hoffman’s game-changing translation guide until they finally started making sense and I could read them with relative ease. The fact that my family indulged me in that, and gave me the time and space for genealogy research in the midst of holiday cheer, was yet another Christmas gift.
(If you’re curious about what that baptismal record says, here’s the translation.)
“This happened in the village of Mistrzewice on the 30th day of September/12th day of October 1892 at 4:00 in the afternoon. He appeared, Stanisław Zieliński, farmer residing in Mistrzewice, 28 years from birth, in the presence of Tomasz Kęska, farmer, age 33, and Piotr Szewczyk, farmer, age 33, residents of the village of Mistrzewice, and showed us a child of the male sex, stating that it was born in the village of Mistrzewice on the 28th day of September/10th day of October of the current year at 6:00 in the morning of his lawful wife Marianna, née Kalota. (Marginal note, whose text should be inserted here, reads, “To this child at Holy Baptism was given the name Józef.) and godparents were Tomasz Kęska and Waleria Zakościelna. This document to the declarant and to the illiterate witnesses was read, and signed only by us.”
Unfortunately, Mistrzewice and Młodzieszyn, the two parishes which held records for my Zieliński family, were in the path of the Nazis in 1939. Many records were destroyed, as was the parish cemetery in Mistrzewice, so my knowledge of the family is incomplete. I do know that my 5x-great-grandparents were Wojciech and Katarzyna (maiden name unknown) Ciećwierz, probably born in the 1790s. Their son, Jan Ciećwierz, married Katarzyna Grzelak about 1836. Jan and Katarzyna’s daughter, Antonina Ciećwierz, married Michał Zieliński circa 1853, and together they had 7 children, including my great-great-grandfather, Stanisław Zieliński, who married Marianna Kalota. Michał Zieliński died in February 1872, a fact which I know only because it was mentioned in the marriage record when his widow Antonina remarried Ludwik Grzegorek. Surviving marriage records for Mistrzewice only go back to 1855, and death records only go back to 1890, so I will never be able to determine Michał’s parents’ names from either his marriage or his death record.
On the Kalota side, I can trace back as far as my 4x-great-grandparents, Antoni Kalota and Marianna Wilczek, whose son Roch Kalota married Agata Kurowska, daughter of Andrzej and Katarzyna (maiden name unknown) Kurowski, circa 1855. Had they married in Mistrzewice, their marriage record might have been captured in the surviving records, but unfortuately the Kalota family was from Młodzieszyn, where all the records prior to 1885 were destroyed. Roch and Agata Kalota had six children that I have been able to discover, including my great-great-grandmother, Marianna (née Kalota) Zielińska.
Geneteka’s interface has changed considerably since I began my research that Christmas, and it offers more powerful and flexible search options than it did four years ago. Moreover, records are being added to Geneteka regularly, so it’s well worth your time to revisit your research periodically, even if you think you’ve been thorough. For example, a new feature that has been added since I first began researching my Zieliński family is the ability to conduct a province-wide search using both a surname and a maiden name. So I can now search all of Mazowieckie province for records which mention both the names Ciećwierz and Grzelak — which I just did, while writing this blog post, with exciting results (Figure 3)!
Figure 3: Search results for Ciećwierz and Grzelak in Mazowieckie province.
If you’ll notice, there are three marriages that occurred in Mistrzewice, and I knew about those already. However, there are two births for children of Jan Ciećwierz and Katarzyna Grzelak in the parish of Mikołajew — Feliks in 1838 and Marcjanna in 1840. The dates are right on the money to make them siblings of my 3x-great-grandmother, Antonina (née Ciećwierz) Zielińska. Moreover, there is an 1830 marriage record for a Marianna Ciećwierz to a Karol Grzelak, also in Mikołajew, as well the death record for this same woman five years later. If you hover your cursor over the “i” in that indexed entry for the death record, you see that Marianna was age 25 when she died and her maiden name was indeed Ciećwierz. The death index specifies that the parents of Marianna (née Ciećwierz) Grzelak were Wojciech and Katarzyna, which means that Marianna was most likely a sister to my 4x-great-grandfather Jan Ciećwierz. Jan’s death record from 1897 states that he was age 82 when he died, suggesting a birth year of 1815, and if Marianna was 25 when she died in 1835, then she was born in 1810 — just 5 years older than Jan.
The fact that these records are from Mikołajew is also fascinating to me. My great-grandfather, Joseph Zielinski, emigrated in 1912 with his cousin, Stanley Mikołajewski. Although he initially settled in North Tonawanda, New York, where my family lived, Stanley eventually moved on to Cleveland where he changed the family surname to Michaels. The families remained close and would often travel back and forth between North Tonawanda and Cleveland for visits. Etymologically, “Mikołajewski” is a topographic surname, deriving from the names of towns such as Mikołajew.1 So essentially, the surname “Mikołajewski” means, “that guy from Mikołajew,” and I have long suspected that the Mikołajewskis who settled in Młodzieszyn and married into my Kalota family, must have been from the nearby village of Mikołajew originally (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Map showing proximity of Mikołajew to Młodzieszyn and Mistrzewice.
Surnames were often surprisingly changeable in the first half of the 19th century in Poland, and as I consider these new data, I wonder if perhaps it was Stanley Mikołajewski’s grandfather or great-grandfather who might have used a different surname previously, but migrated to Młodzieszyn, perhaps at the same time as my Ciećwierz ancestors, and became known as “Mikołajewski.” Further pondering and research are required to fully understand all this, but at the moment, I’m thrilled with this wonderful new discovery!
Somehow, it seems like another Christmas gift from Grandpa in heaven.
1 William F. Hoffman, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings (Third Edition), (Chicago: Polish Genealogical Society of America, 2012), p. 450
© Julie Roberts Szczepankiewicz 2016